by Thomas Pettitt
When I feel like my skin is about to melt off my bones like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I know the fun has just begun. The intensity of searing white light from the late summer sun awakens distorting ripples in the air, making me question if the gargantuan Ferris wheel in the distance is nothing more than a mirage.
Alternative pop music blasting from the ring toss booth collides with country music playing from tall speakers in the stall selling cowboy hats. A little boy cries into his father’s arms because it’s too hot and his ice cream has turned into a puddle on the scorching pavement. I catch fractured phrases from the horde of people around me: “…and her baby never got the flu vaccination…” “…but his penis remained limp the whole…” “…any Tylenol in your bag, Felicia?”
My friend, Niamh, snacks on bacon drizzled with milk chocolate. It’s new to the fair this year and vendors proclaim it to be the perfect union of sweet and savory. I beg to differ, however.
I am flanked on both sides by a menagerie of theme park attractions: swings that lift you an unsettling distance from the blacktop group, roller coasters that have one too many loopty-loops, a merry-go-round that goes ten miles an hour and requires a seat belt, and much, much more.
Everything is painted in a rainbow of brilliant neon, making it all a greater version of itself. Rides are grand and frightening in the best way, prizes are big and eccentric, and the food is fatty and outlandish. I gag at the smell of Oreos and Twinkies being deep fried in monstrous vats of bubbling grease. So much activity unfolds around me and prioritizing my focus is key to staving off a sensory overload.
A pair of girls idles around a massive plastic lemon where lemonade is sold in extra-extra-large cups. They wear the classic fair attire: booty shorts that ride high and lacy tank tops that ride low, cleavage exposed and glistening with sweat.
A gaggle of boys lounges on the lawn close to where Niamh and I have chosen to sit. One of them is leaning back on a huge teddy bear he must have won at a game booth. Two of his friends snack on fries drenched in cheese colored an unnatural shade of yellow. Both boys are shirtless and display atrocious farmer tans that boast of long days on the beach.
We are farther away from the rides now and listen to bluegrass music being played by some offbeat band undoubtedly comprised of washed-up musicians turned elementary school teachers. Black smoke billows skyward from the grills of popular food vendors surrounding the stage the band performs on.
The bottoms of my feet ache and blister from so much walking, and my hair sticks out at odd angles from running my hands through the damp locks one too many times. But this is all to be expected when there’s so much to explore and only so many hours in a summer’s day. I will continue to revel in the larger-than-life insanity I’ve immersed myself in because the magic of it is a rarity that must be savored.
By the time I get home, my feet will be bleeding, my clothes will be saturated with sweat, and it’ll take two showers to peel away the slimy layers of SPF 50. But that’s okay.
It is fair season, after all.